No foolin’, an exhibition on improv comedy opens on April Fool’s Day. Free and open to the public, Viola Spolin: Improvisation and Intuition, runs from April 1 through Aug. 16, at Northwestern University Library on 1970 Campus Drive in Evanston.
Although not a household name, Viola Spolin—the legendary drama teacher known as the High Priestess of Improv—helped shape a generation of performers whose careers shaped comedy today.
“Ensemble comedy TV shows like 30 Rock, improvisational theaters around the country and the movies of Christopher Guest and others who take an improvisational approach to film build on the groundbreaking work of Viola Spolin,” explains University Library digital media specialist Dan Zellner, who curated the exhibition with librarians Charlotte Cubbage and Benn Joseph.
In the early 1950s, Spolin assisted her son Paul Sills and David Shepard in founding the Compass Theater, the nation’s first improvisational theater. In 1959, Sills co-founded The Second City, which became the most influential and prolific comedy and improvisational theater in the world.
As its website indicates, Second City had strong roots in the improvisational theatre games that Spolin developed to unleash creativity and that Northwestern University Press published in Improvisation for the Theater. The book became an omnipresent text in acting classes and influenced generations of actors, directors and teachers.
Drawing on its collection, the University Library exhibition tells the story of Spolin and the theater exercises and games for which she is best known through photos, her writing and audio and video clips. Also on display are her games, some unpublished and visible for the first time to the public.